When legendary chef John Downey put farmer Tom Shepherd’s name on his menu in the mid-1980s, he kicked off a trend not only for Santa Barbara, but the entire world. This region has been all about farm-to-table since long before that term became marketing catnip. Visit any local farmers markets, and you’re sure to bump into chefs loading carts with just-picked produce. And of course, the Pacific is rich with seafood, while the county’s vineyards produce some of California’s top wines.
Alexander La Motte
Executive Chef, Hotel Californian
Chef La Motte, who has worked with Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud, oversees all culinary operations at Hotel Californian.
Hotel Californian is a mere block from the Pacific, so it’s little surprise you call your food dock-to-dish. What’s a good example of that from the menu?
At Blackbird, the property’s upscale-but-approachable restaurant, we serve an escabéche I’m particularly jazzed about. Right now, it features Pacific mackerel, local uni (sea urchin), and Santa Barbara ridgeback shrimp cured in olive oil and white wine from over the mountain. There’s even fennel pollen on it that’s from close to home. I love the dish.
How do you keep things fresh?
We print menus in house, so we change them every few days. Each week we change two or three items, so it’s a constant evolution. We don’t just come up with a seasonal menu every quarter.
With items ranging from case salads to smoothies to quiche, how would you describe the property’s other spot, Goat Tree?
It’s a counter-service driven restaurant serving amazing coffee, an innovative bakery, sandwiches, and an eclectic dinner menu. At both restaurants, we hope visitors and locals alike find treasures on the menus that they haven’t discovered before.
Chef Partner, The Bear and Star
Before opening The Bear and Star in May 2017, John Cox developed a style at spots like Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn that he calls “micro- regional.”
What does that term micro-regional mean to you?
Chefs must think backward from the plate. For me, that’s making the end product as closed-circuit as possible. Seven miles from the restaurant is the Parker Home Ranch, our owners’ 700-acre property we use as grazing land for our Wagyu cattle. Also on the property is a vegetable garden, organic orchard, and greenhouse. The Home Ranch houses dozens of chickens, quail, and ducks; an aviary; plus goats, sheep, and soon, Mangalista pigs.
So what does raising your own meat and produce do for The Bear and Star?
It dictates everything. We’re constantly working toward new highs in terms of quality and sustainability — whether it’s deciding the best mix of grass and feed for the cattle, fine tuning our aquaponics system so we can offer the freshest fish, or re-purposing kitchen grease to power the ranch truck …. true story!
How can you top that?
It’s hard to top the truck! We have some ideas we’re working on that will give guests the opportunity to take a deep dive into our world.
Executive Chef, bouchon santa barbara
Greg Murphy was an Environmental Studies major at UC Santa Barbara, so farm-to-table has always had huge appeal to him. Having served as bouchon’s head chef for seven of its 20 years, he’s a veteran of this story.
How important is the farmers market?
I feel like a local celebrity there, shopping both Saturday and Tuesday. Shopping with the same farmers, I get better quality and better prices. I’m always increasing my food knowledge, asking growers questions.
Tell me about bouchon’s Foodie Stroll.
Guests tour the farmers market with me. Then back at bouchon, I make a three-course dinner with what we’ve bought. I embrace the spirit of hospitality in my boss, Mitchell Sjerven, and explain to the best of my knowledge what farmers sell and then what we do with it.
How is bouchon known for one of the area’s first and most extensive wine programs?
This restaurant helped put a lot of wineries on the map by facilitating wine knowledge, especially how it applies to food. I try to make dishes that work with the wine. One of our servers, Aaron Watty, is a winemaker himself — we often serve his Big Tar Wines.